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Putin, Obama and Noah’s cats

Over all these years since 1975 when I reached Moscow on my first assignment in the former USSR, I was privileged to watch from the sidelines many a Russian-American high level exchange. The learning curve will never end, but in the run-up to the exchanges, especially summit level meetings, what often came to mind was a cute little “Biblical” story about Noah and the cats. 

While travelling in the Arc, Noah could hear that the pair of cats kept snarling and he could understand their tension after barely escaping from the deluge of the Great Flood. So, finally when the waters receeded and the dry land appeared and Noah and the animals left the the Arc to repopulate the Earth, he was stunned to see half a dozen kittens trooping out. Thereupon, the male cat turned to Noah and taunted him, “You thought we were fighting?”
Thus, the decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to drop out of the G8 at Camp David became a topic of animated discussion, the consensus view being that the Russian leader snubbed his American counterpart Barack Obama. When Obama decided soon after to skip the APEC summit in Vladivostock, it seemed a “tit-for-tat”. 
Of course, I remembered Noah’s Arc. But it was easy to judge why this sound of snarling was misleading. To judge that Putin was snubbing Obama, there needed to be some empirical evidence, which was lacking. On the other hand, just before his inauguration as president, the US national security advisor Tom Donillon was deputed to call on him — Putin received him at his residence in Moscow suburbs — and hand over a letter from Obama proposing a new phase of US-Russia cooperation. 
More important, Putin is just embarking on what is arguably going to be the most daunting phase of his entire political life — navigating simultaneously on twin tracks the transition of the archaic Russian political system and the innovation of the stagnant economy, while also keeping the inevitable social turbulence within a reasonable threshold. In my judgment, Putin has a clear sense of priority as regards his legacy in Russia’s modern history — and quixotically tilting at the windmills in the West is the last thing on his mind. 
Equally, Obama, if he wins a second term, can be trusted to give his best shot at addressing the US-Russia reset more imaginatively than in his first term when he was under constraints of various kinds. Obama also has his priorities cut out for him, and he senses Russia could be a valuable ally in a difficult world; at any rate any lingering “enemy” image of Russia amongst cold warriors in the US is a problem for them alone to come to terms with. 
The fundamental contradiction is over the US missile defence system. It isn’t going to be easy to reconcile. Indeed, Putin will assert Russia’s status and role as a great power, and the global strategic balance is crucial to this matrix. On the other hand, the US has never come this close to making a serious bid for nuclear superiority. Statesmanship of the highest order is needed to reconcile the US agenda with Russian aspirations. Much is unclear, starting with the prime-hour question as to Obama’s prospects of securing a second term. 
Thus, on balance, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev appears to have fulfilled his mission to Camp David. He put to use his warm equations with Obama to ensure that the US-Russia reset remains on track. The picture of the two statesmen sitting on a bench in a park in the Camp David retreat and having an intense conversation conveys a lot. Medvedev apparently handed over to Obama a letter from Putin outlining “Russia’s priorities in the foreign policy course.” This looks like a cat-fight, isn’t it? 

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics, Uncategorized.


6 Responses

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  1. tick says

    Biblical analogies can not capture the true complexities inherent in the relationship between two super powers of complexity and kind human era had never seen before. A Cross toting Putin made no head way last time. The only way the relationship can be truly comprehended is by a modern intellectual apparatus. However, for any model thereby developed, to predict outcomes is even more difficult.

    The issue here is not trust between two or handful of individuals or even two governments, but between two mega societies consisting of mind-boggling talents, diverse agendas and histories of totally different kinds.

    Reset has failed once before and a second time failure may cause serious long term risks to both nations with no real remedy in sight. If reset fails, the Indo-Russia relationship may also wither away and if sustained may cause serious drift in Indo-US relationships. This risk exposure having being highlighted here, time to sign off, as was promised few months earlier.

  2. tick says

    The test case for US-Russia re-set is not Iran but Syria. In Iran the government is not in question, its policies are. Over which Russia has no real accountability.

    The Syrian issue is a peaceful and rapid transition to genuine democracy. As reported a Yemen model has been laid on table by Prez Obama. The trajectory of events in Syria could determine the fate of re-set, particularly since it shares borders with Israel.

    It is a test case in the sense that the old Soviet policy framework on Middle-East would need to be dismantled and a new approach fashioned by Russians. The earlier efforts seemingly were extension of the old cold war antipodal policies, even when there would have been no inconsistency with professed governance values of the present day Russia.

  3. tick says

    The economic and social leverages in US-Russian relationships are not many, those are far less than Sino-US linkages. Hence even with comitted intent US leadership can not do much to turn past the inertia of current trajectory set in seventies. The stake holders have invested much, reap huge profits and have much to lose by queering Kissingerian pitch. This momentm will continue even while aggravating long term risks to US.

    G-8 consolidation, Iran inclusion are necessary pre-condition to create a favorable investment climate for risk reduction of divestment away from China. More critical in next gen reforms in India. Even then it will take decades for tide to turn.

  4. tick says

    The economic and social leverages in US-Russian relationships are not many, those are far less than Sino-US linkages. Hence even with comitted intent US leadership can not do much to turn past the inertia of current trajectory set in seventies. The stake holders have invested much, reap huge profits and have much to lose by queering Kissingerian pitch. This momentm will continue even while aggravating long term risks to US.

    G-8 consolidation, Iran inclusion are necessary pre-condition to create a favorable investment climate for risk reduction of divestment away from China. More critical in next gen reforms in India. Even then it will take decades for tide to turn.

  5. D goel says

    The Russian Bear is Grizzly ,but the current President Putin issharpand bright facedand capapable of effecrivekarate Chops almost like a shark under ocean’s depths.
    Putin is notvery respectful ofcoventional kind of Group meetings in which there is only mutual back strapping and at theend a wishy washy joint statement a model interse sterility ishansded out to global Media.Putin is very effective in registering hispolicy frame to let Russia gain a lost FootHold in international determination ofworks that tilt Balance ofpower in his Russia’s favour. D. Goel

  6. Johan says

    “… The fundamental contradiction is over the US missile defence system. It isn’t going to be easy to reconcile. …”

    This entire issue lacks clarity. According to some, e.g., the May 9th article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (*), it is not an issue at all, since allegedly, such a system cannot possibly work (just as Ronald Reagan’s SDI of the 1980-s could not). But then, if so, why would Russians protest so vehemently (just as they did about the SDI)? That particular article’s substitute for an explanation “… Since NATO is treating the system as if it were a reality, Russia must as well …” is eminently vacuous, to put it mildly…

    (*) http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/columnists/kennette-benedict

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